Clutch keep-away drive allows Los Angeles Chargers rare drama-free victory

LANDOVER, Md. -- Ultimately, it was not a drive -- or a feeling -- that Los Angeles Chargers fans are used to.

There was 6:43 left on the clock and the Chargers had the ball on their own 18-yard line. And here's something else the Chargers weren't used to: They were ahead of the Washington Football Team 20-16, looking for a season-opening victory in Brandon Staley's coaching debut.

Last season, they would have blown it, as the Chargers dropped four games last year in which they had a double-digit lead. They probably would have lost this game in 2019, too, as the Chargers lost nine games by one score that year, 16 in the past two.

But this clearly was a new season, and quarterback Justin Herbert was feeling it, leading the Chargers to a 15-play, 72-yard drive that took all 6 minutes and 43 seconds, depriving Washington the ball and preventing the Chargers from going through the late-game drama that has dominated their existence the past two seasons.

"It feels a lot better," Herbert said after the game, contrasting the smooth ending to what the team went through last season. Herbert threw for 337 yards and a go-ahead touchdown to Mike Williams on 31-of-47 passing.

Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen was feeling it, too. Allen, who had nine receptions for 100 yards on the game, converted two first downs on the final drive, including a 17-yard gain on third-and-16 with 4:51 left to continue the drive.

Allen then ended Washington's hopes completely with a 9-yard reception on third-and-4, advancing to the Washington 7 with 1:44 left. With Washington out of timeouts, Herbert was able to kneel out the clock and seal the victory, capping a day in which the Chargers converted 14 of their 19 third-down conversion attempts, four coming on the final drive.

"Herbert was big time on third down," Allen said. "[No.] 19 is big time. Our offense played really well."

Williams came up with another third-down conversion, bringing in a pass for 20 yards to the Washington 22-yard line on third-and-7 right before the two-minute warning. Williams had eight receptions for 82 yards and the game-winning touchdown -- a 3-yard score with 11:21 left.

"I can't believe we had 19 third downs," Herbert said, shaking his head. "Whether you win or you lose, you still learn from it. We lost way too many times last year. We will learn from this."

Allen, Herbert and Williams weren't the only heroes on the final drive. Second-year receiver K.J. Hill Jr. had two receptions for 26 yards on the drive, including a 19-yard catch on third-and-3 with 4:19 left. Austin Ekeler, who scored the Chargers' first touchdown Sunday, had a couple of carries, and rookie running back Larry Rountree III got involved as the Chargers bled the clock.

"Fourth quarter, we just really came together as a team," said Staley, who celebrated his first NFL win in style.

We shall see.